USF Professor of Music Education Victor Fung Studies Seniors in Japan as Fulbright Scholar

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

USF professor of music education Victor Fung is working on a Fulbright research project to investigate senior citizens’ music participation and quality of life in Japan.

From July 2018 to January 2019, Fung spent time in Japan gathering data and working with collaborators for the project. He is supported by a 2018 Core U.S. Fulbright Scholarship.

Fung’s research comes at a time when the global population is aging rapidly. According to an NIH-funded Census Bureau report, 16.7% of the world population will be age 65 and over by 2050, compared to 8.5% in 2015. With this challenge comes an increased need to understand and care for the well-being of aging adults around the world.

Fung’s previous research with collaborator and co-author Lisa Lehmberg, documented in the book Music for Life, found music to be a significant contributor to quality of life for seniors in a retirement community in the southeastern United States. The researchers used surveys, focus groups, and direct observation which found qualitative evidence for psychological, social, and physical benefits among seniors who engage with music.

Music played an important social role in the lives of seniors studied. For some, coming together to play music with others was their only chance to socialize each week. For those living with pain, they described forgetting about it while engaging in musical activity.

Fung’s newest research takes a similar methodology from his Music for Life studies and applies it to a Japanese sample. In Japan, about 1 in 3 adults is age 60 and older, making it the country with the largest aging population in the world.

“That is very substantial … That’s what drew me to Japan,” said Fung.

Gathering data from music groups from both urban and rural locations, Fung and his team, including host and collaborator Hiromichi Mito of Meiji Gakuin University, hope to better understand music as it pertains to quality of life among seniors in Japan. Locations varied from the large cities of Tokyo and Nagoya, to the smaller cities of Sendai and Nishio, and to rural areas, such as Uonuma.

Study participants have a wide range of musical experiences, ranging from lifelong learners to those who started in retirement. Some are part of performing groups, while others simply come together to make music in a group setting. The music groups will be compared against groups of seniors who are involved with other activities, such as a group dedicated to fixing toys.

Before his six-month residency in Japan, Fung began his preparations early by studying the Japanese language. He completed four Japanese classes which prepared him to delve deeper into Japanese society and culture during his stay.

Fung is working with a team of collaborators from Japanese universities. Mito has helped translate texts, form a network of study sites, and contribute ideas to the project. Japanese university faculty and students have helped to conduct interviews with seniors and make observations to provide insight with a native level understanding of the Japanese language and culture.

In July 2019, Fung will return to Japan to discuss the analyses and findings with the research team before sharing them at the 12th Asia-Pacific Symposium on Music Education Research in Macau in the same month.